Friday, February 03, 2006

State of the household

Like it? 
Around the beginning of the year, it's helpful to take stock -- to gauge the temperature of your family, so to speak. As my own family's personal rectal thermometer, I use a State of the Household address.

It's just like the annual State of the Union address: dull, circulated to the media hours beforehand, full of nutty promises, interrupted about 40 times, and it always cuts into prime time TV.

Also like the real speech: I gathered my dog and my two cats together in the same room. They normally don't like each other, but for the speech they tolerate each other's presence, to keep up the idea that they can be reasonable. My wife sat behind me. Even more like the real speech: She holds the actual power and makes most of the important decisions while I mispronounce words and pretend to be the boss.

I stood before the animals and laid out my speech on the lectern. Did I just say "lectern"? I meant "stack of phone books."

"Distinguished members of this house, welcome," I said.

I held for applause.

After I finished applauding, I consulted my notes. The key to beginning any good State of the Whatever address is to hammer home three completely non-specific points:

(a) "The economy is good."
(b) "We're all still here."
(c) "We're making progress."

You never have to prove any of it, but it sounds really rosy. And feel free to use "progress" in all parts of speech. Noun, verb, adjective, as an exclamation -- just have fun with it!

"Our economy remains strong," I said. "Our people are united as never before. Progress is being made. We are uniting to achieve progress in the economic sectors of the economy. Progress-wise, a long road lies ahead of us, but we will continue to make progress along that road and envision progress toward a brighter future for our children and our children's children, as long as we never lose our sense of common unity and our progressive ideas on economic responsibility."

I belched and tasted acid. I knew it was time to move on. Also, one of my cats fell asleep.

"But there is still progress to be made in our household -- not-so-nifty aspects of life in our household today, which we must unite to overcome. And overcome them, we shall, nay, we must, as we have overcome so much in our shared history to progress into the united people we are, before us all, among us, here, tonight, now."

My dog started chewing a hoof.

"One of the greatest threats to our household's health is pollution," I said, pointing at the dog. "Be it pollution in the air -- for instance the wicked bad reek from that cow hoof we may occasionally chew. Or be it carpet pollution from indoor poopings. Be it litter pollution on the floor around our household's litter boxes from Fresh Step too casually and carelessly thrown outside." I leveled a sad gaze at my animals. "This threatens our very way of life. We can't pass this problem on to future generations. Which is why I'm going to make pollution cleanup a No. 1 and a No. 2 priority."

I held for polite laughter. I had a tape recorder with pre-recorded polite laughter already queued up.

"Terrorism is also a cause for concern in our household. The borders of our cat territory are too porous, allowing dog attacks almost daily," I said. "Likewise, the cats must recognize the dog's right to exist." I leaned over the phone books and smacked them with my shoe for emphasis. "There is entirely too much teasing going on when the dog is in her crate!"

They exchanged scowls and sat there, not saying a word.

"None of us understands the high cost of health care more than our government. In my new budget, I'm going to respectfully ask both houses of Congress to stop eating things they shouldn't. Erasers, socks, pieces of ribbon, you name it. It all ends up in a pile of pinkish mush on the rug. Then we have to force-feed you Pepto-Bismol. More pinkish mush. Increased prescription drug costs. You see where I'm going with this."

The cats stood up. The dog stayed seated.

I shuffled through my index cards. "Immigration has been long a concern of many members of this house. All of us are aware of the surge in population growth this past year following the passing away of our senior member of Congress. Our population has grown from one cat to two cats, then to two cats and one dog. And there are rumors swirling in the media of a second dog in the works. And then of course the periodic attempts of illegal immigration by stray cats in the yard." I raised my voice. "I know it irritates the dog to see them out there, and you cats wouldn't give a shit if there's one stray out there or 97 of them, but we all have to be united! Do I have to go into the whole unity deal again?"

"No," my wife muttered.

Now it was time to bring it home and park the speech safely in the garage for another year. The best way to end a State of the Whatever address is to lean on three key points, even vaguer than the first ones:

(a) "I have a vision for the future."
(b) "I'm still going to be the leader."
(c) "God bless America."

"In closing," I said, dabbing sweat from my brow, "I envision a brighter tomorrow for all of our united people, a vision full of promise and hope and progress. With hope in our hearts and progress also in our hearts, I promise to lead our household into that future. God bless the United States of America!"

I was mostly finished before the rest of the house completed its Official Rebuttal. The cats scratched the dog, then ran up into the attic to hide, the dog right after them. Then the dog disappeared into the basement and came back a minute later. She smelled of shit.

"Does anybody even pay attention to these fucking things anymore?" I asked my wife.

She was aiming a 50-yard stare deep into a sketchbook. "Thanks," she said, "coffee would be great."

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